Teaching 4th grade will always hold a special place in my heart. California history, particularly the Gold Rush Era, was one of my favorite units to teach. During the first 5 or so years of my career, my grade level colleagues and I would devote endless hours of coordination, fundraising, and planning to send our students to a 3 night camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Gold Camp. It’s what you did when you got to 4th grade. History was learned. Forever memories were made.
The journey to get there however, was EXHAUSTING. Every year, through tireless fundraising efforts, we scraped together enough money to finance transportation for the 2 hour drive up to Sonora, California. What was the mode of transportation? The big blue school bus that could. It wasn’t the most updated vehicle. I remember feeling the engine straining as we traveled up the winding mountain roads (with million dollar views, mind you), while the kiddos with motion sick tummies expelled their queasiness into gallon Ziploc bags. I remember feeling so “done” with the trip even before we got off the bus.
All of the stress and exhaustion always took a dramatic turn for the better when we unloaded the bus, stood on solid ground, and inhaled the crisp mountain air. Things continued to improve when the camp staff and parent chaperones took charge of the program and activities. The teachers could get back to their regularly scheduled breathing.
The ground rules were set, including the most important one. Our fearless camp leader made it known right away.
“There will be NO What are we gonna…? or When are we gonna?… questions. Ever. Don’t even try to re-frame your questions to not sound like those kinds of questions.”
Best educational rule ever. I sometimes forget how powerful and simple the concept is. Let people (and little ones) enjoy their time as it happens. A schedule is set in place as a guide, but it is not meant to be a spoiler.
I too, followed the advice over the duration of camp and I was able to enjoy it so much more. I learned something new along with the kids every year. The scenery kept my calm levels in check even though I was in the midst of the most stressful field trip of the year. I will never forget the amazing sights and sounds, even during the muddy and rainy years. Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen? YES. Keep in mind though, another ground rule was to not buy the baseball sized jawbreakers as your Gold Camp souvenir. The vistas and feeling of accomplishment after the ditch hike will be a forever memory in mental teacher file. Columbia State Park Cemetery walk? My favorite.
Maintaining the delicate balance of anticipation of what’s to come, and suffering over what you can’t control is a hard thing to do. I struggle with it all the time, through milestones and small moments. Then I remember Gold Country. I remember living in the now, even back then, because that was all I could do in the moment.
I’ll remember this happy place as a fun, yet stressful memory in my career. I’ll also remember that sometimes I can’t allow myself to ask, “What are we gonna?….” or “When are we gonna?”.
I’ll find out. Everyone will.
Maybe I’ll plan a family trip up to The Queen of The Southern Mines sometime soon.
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■ Elementary Educator for Equity & Cultural Responsibility
■ Collector of Small Moments & Thrifty Finds
■ Wife & Mother
■ Bay Area, CA